Drinking water disinfection is among the most important technological advances of humanity, yet like every major historic development it has a downside. Today, we run the risk of over-ingesting the disinfection chemicals used in public water treatment, along with their dangerous disinfection bi-products. It’s a bummer to know what’s really in our water - everything from naturally occurring radioactive contaminants to anti-depressants. Some toxins, such as Chlorine, are relatively easy to filter out. Others, like Chloramine and chloroforms, are much slower to dissipate and far more difficult to remove. These are the toxins that cause cancer.
A Splash of Cold Water
“Chloramines are disinfectants used to treat drinking water. Chloramines are most commonly formed when ammonia is added to chlorine to treat drinking water. The typical purpose of chloramines is to provide longer-lasting water treatment as the water moves through pipes to consumers. This type of disinfection is known as secondary disinfection. Chloramines have been used by water utilities for almost 90 years, and their use is closely regulated. More than one in five Americans uses drinking water treated with chloramines.” [SOURCE: EPA]
Yet not everyone thinks of Chloramine usage as being so cut and dry. According to Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC), “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that NO scientific studies on the skin or respiratory effects of chloramine have ever been conducted. Also the cancer studies on chloramine itself are so limited that they cannot be used to determine if chloramine, or any of its disinfection byproducts are carcinogens.” [SOURCE: chloramine.org]
The EPA does have a few dozen, single-page pdfs about Chloramine on its website, where it also states that Chloramine been used in America for ninety years, and is consumed by one-in-five Americans. According to Pennsylvania American Water Company (PWAC), a big proponent of Chloramine usage, in Pennsylvania that number jumps to one-in-three.
PAWC puts a lot of pro-Chloramine info on its website, which I read with interest, sifting for facts and sniffing out spin. I’m naturally incredulous whenever I see that much PR slathered all over a thing.
Turns out the stuff is banned in Tennessee, according to local TV news reporter, Chris Cato in Tap Water: Running the Risk, which aired on CBS news affiliate WSPA-TV, Anderson-Ashville in November, 2011.
“There’s too much unknown about Chloramine.” - Sherwin Smith, Tennessee Water Supply Division
The URLs That Refresh
Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC) is a nonprofit organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. It’s a great place to start to learn more about this insidious chemical now seeping through Americans lives. Chloramine usage is being challenged currently in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, New York,, North Carolina, Vermont and Virginia
In Pennsylvania, opposition is particularly robust. Learn more about the efforts to protect and inform the public statewide at ChloramineInfoCenter.net.
Many people are already experiencing serious side-effects from Chloramine exposure, however, water utilities like PAWC’s and Aqua PA’s Main Division use Chloramine for a lot of reasons, one of which is because it lasts longer and therefore helps with secondary disinfection - keeping water germ-less as it travels through the system to your house. Yet, it’s exactly because these toxins are so long lasting that they are so dangerous. We’re more exposed to them. What’s worse, they’re easily born off in steamy, hot water vapor - like the kind you might use to unwind in the shower or improve baby’s cough.
"When Chloramine undergoes heat or pH changes, it changes to di and tri-chloramines. Tri-chloramine is a potent respiratory irritant, states ChloramineInfoCenter.net. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that chloramine is 2000 times less effective at killing E. coli, and 100,000 times less effective at killing rotaviruses than chlorine.” [SOURCE: chloramineinfocenter.net]
Chloramine in drinking water causes a wide range of health problems:
- Respiratory Problems: asthma, bronchitis, persistent coughing, wheezing, chronic sinus/nasal congestion
- Skin Rashes: welts, blistering, dry skin, cracking, chapping, peeling, bleeding, burning sensations, scarring
- Digestive Disorders: severe stomach cramps, acid reflux, IBS
- Mouth Ulcers
- Gout & Kidney-related Ailments
- Dry Eye, Dry Mouth
- People in chemotherapy should not drink chloramine-treated water
Those with suppressed immune systems (HIV Aids, chemotherapy patients, and infants under six months of age) must have their water boiled over ten minutes to kill the pathogens in the water.
Chloramine is also highly corrosive to household plumbing and it kills Aquarium fish, too. In fact, it can cause massive fish kills. Chloramines do not dissipate like chlorines. If a water main breaks, Chloramines would flow into the water supply via creeks and streams, at full strength, and result in serious fish kills.
Believe it or not, Chloramine usage also raises national security concerns. “Chloramine does not react the same as chlorine to contaminants. A drop in chlorine levels signals a water facility that there is a contaminant in the water. Chloramine will not react the same way and will not provide that critical early alert. Manufacturers of terrorist detection systems have recommended that chloramines NOT be used as a disinfection in the water systems for this reason and have more strenuously recommended that they not be used in service areas where there are military bases as they are likely targets for terrorist activity.” [SOURCE: chloramineinfocenter.net]
"It’s The Methane"
Former DEP Secretary John Hanger has said it.
Duke University scientists said it.
Author Seamus McGraw has said it, again and again.
Methane contamination is a major problem with fracking.
“In the east one of the main problems is methane contamination,” McGraw said in a 2010 interview on failuremag.com.
“The truth in Dimock is that hydraulic fracturing did not cause frack fluids to contaminate water wells, but gas did migrate as a result of errors in drilling the gas wells,” Hanger stated on his own blog, Facts of the Day.
Environmental scientists at Duke studied the phenomena and concluded May 2011 that Methane levels are 17 times higher in water wells near hydrofracking sites and therefore required further study.
According to Heinz Award winning ecologist and author, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., when you chlorinate water that is contaminated with methane you end up with disinfection by-products such as Trihalomethanes, or chloroforms, which are known to cause bladder and colon cancer.
More methane means more Chloramine in Pennsylvania water treatment plants.
One can only hope that the subject of Fracking, so new to the general lexicon, is raising public awareness of what’s in our drinking water. It may not be a rosy picture now, but if the Delaware River is opened to drilling by the DRBC, or machinations of the Corbett administration which is frothing at the mouth for gas, our tap water will surely get a lot worse.
AquaPA, AquaAmerica: Pure Expedience
According to AquaPA’s 2011 Water Quality Report for the Main Division, which serves the great Philadelphia metropolitan area, Chloramines were present at an average detection of 1.3ppb (parts per billion), which is a considerable increase from 1.1 in 2010. Average Chloramine detection ranged from 1.0-1.4. Total Trihalomethanes ranged in detection from ND-78ppb; the average detection was 33. Haloacetic acids ranged from none to 69ppb, with an average detection of 24.